While no one could deny the effectiveness of Brazilian jiu jitsu, the more subtle aspects of the martial art have not always been promoted. Specifically, why jiu jitsu is referred to as the “arte suave” in Portuguese, or the “gentle art” in English? Some confusion about how jiu jitsu can be considered “gentle” is understandable. Afterall, the main objective in jiu jitsu is to either choke or strangle our opponent into unconsciousness, or to place their limbs in a position where they can be broken.
Nevertheless the “gentle” aspects of jiu jitsu are an important part of jiu jitsu. Understanding different reasons being gentle is important in the application of jiu jitsu and different ways to be gentle when practicing jiu jitsu can help us become better jiu jitsu players over time. With these objectives in mind, below are five ways to be gentle in the “gentle art” if jiu jitsu along with some philosophical underpinnings explaining the importance of gentleness in each aspect
1. Be gentle with your movements Understanding jiu jitsu as a martial art means in part understanding that jiu jitsu is an art of movement. Whether we are moving our own body, or your own body and an opponent’s body in order to execute or escape a submission, movement is a fundamental aspect of of all that is jiu jitsu. It follows from this that there are different ways we can move. We can move with gentleness or with a lack of gentleness. Jiu jitsu teaches us that although on occasion strength must be applied, overall movement in jiu jitsu should be executed with gentleness. There are a number of reasons why gentle movements are preferable: if we move with gentleness, this implies that we are moving with control. Our movements are thought out ahead of time and have a purpose or objective in mind. One thing this means is that we are less likely to either injure ourselves or our opponent. Being injured in jiu jitsu will slow our jiu jitsu progress, as it will force us to take time off from training. A second point is that when we move with gentleness and control we are likely to economize movement and not waste energy unnecessarily. One example could be wasting a lot of energy trying to finish a submission that is not properly set up with correct technique. In jiu jitsu there is a saying that “if you get tired, you get slow, and if you get slow you get killed”. As such, economizing energy by being conservative in movement and use of energy is facilitated by a gentle rather than brutish approach. Being gentle doesn’t mean being lazy and never using energy or movement, it means using the right technique at the right time with the right amount of force. In other words, being gentle in your movements means fighting with our brain and not just our muscles. Another benefit of being gentle in our movements is that jiu jitsu combat at higher levels becomes very much a battle of wits rather than just a physical contest. With this approach in mind a gentle approach is beneficial because it does not telegraph our immediate intention when setting up a technique. A gentle approach looks down the road two or three moves after a technique is initiated and often relies on subtle movement so that an opponent is not able to react to or properly defend an attack or escape until it is too late. Whether it is camouflaging our intentions or setting up traps by thinking ahead a few moves, a gentle and re
2. Be gentle with your thoughts
In jiu jitsu although we are always training with different opponents, our biggest opponent is always ourselves and more specifically our own minds. Whether it is our egos, our negative thought patters, our laziness or our stubbornness, these are the things we are trying to overcome in jiu jitsu. These things are also the biggest barriers to our jiu jitsu progression. Put simply, our jiu jitsu journey is going to be hard no matter what mindset we adopt, but if we have a negative mindset our journey is going to be both hard and not fun! The good news is that jiu jitsu teaches us over time how to adopt a positive mindset, so even though our journey will be hard, jiu jitsu will teach us how to have fun with it so it is worth it.
Adopting a gentle and positive mindset means not being too hard on ourselves when we get submitted or when we are not able to successfully execute a technique, whether it is an escape or a submission. We need to understand that there are different levels to jiu jitsu and that it takes a lot of consistent effort over time to progress in jiu jitsu. Once we give up trying to arrive at the end point of jiu jitsu without enjoying the long journey along the way, we take a lot of pressure away from ourselves and open up ourselves to actually learning and progressing.
A mind that is stressed and unhappy will have a hard time learning, but a content, positive, and gentle fighter can adopt a learning mentality that creates room for growth. The same gentle mindset that can be applied in practice eventually can also translate into a relaxed approach to competition or combat scenarios. A fighter who fights with control and gentleness will be able to think quickly and initiate techniques instead of just reacting in “panic” mode to what an opponent happens to be doing. As the famous martial artist Bruce Lee said “be like water”. Water flows and is gentle, but water can also come crashing down.
3. Be gentle with your opponents
Because in jiu jitsu we are trying to strangle, chock, or break the limbs of our opponents, it is easy to think of them as our enemy. In most jiu jitsu real life scenearios, apart from actual combat, our opponent is really our biggest teacher and motivator and is deserving of our respect. Without opponents to practice our jiu jitsu, whether it is in the dojo or at a competition, we would not be able to train and improve our jiu jitu. Moreover, just as we agree to release an opponent when he or she is caught in a submission, we also must trust that he or she will do the same if we have to tap out. Consequently, there is a measure of not only respect but also trust that comes with training jiu jitsu with a partner.
In real life applications, being gentle with our opponent means many things that are almost too numerous to mention. Some things are straightforward, slap and bump fists before we roll, keep or bodies and gis clean, our nails trimmed, match our opponents intensity so we are neither going to hard nor to soft, go with the submission if we get caught to prevent injuries, if we have a submission, execute it in a controlled manner so our opponent has time to tap, if our opponent has us caught also, tap well before we get hurt so our opponent is not forced to hurt us, don’t grab fingers, hair or skin or fight dirty, be positive, if we get caught in a submission don’t come back angry or aggressive, and try to say a kind word to our opponent before and after the roll, especially if it is a beginner who may need more encouragement.
4. Be gentle with your body
Jiu jitsu gives many physical rewards, but it can also be hard on the body. We only have one body, and the jiu jitsu journey from white belt to black belt and beyond is very long, so we have to make sure we take care of our body that is going to get us through the journey. There are different ways to take care of ourselves that can help the body stay healthy, strong, and injury free. One thing we can do is train regularly so that we are constantly getting stronger, smarter, and more skilled. Learning is the number one thing that can minimize the occurrence of injuries over the long run.
Other things we can do with our body to be gentle with it in jiu jitsu include making sure we are eating a quality diet, and not overindulging, making sure we are staying hydrated, making sure we are resting and sleeping enough. It is also important to listen to our bodies and fix problems before they happen or get more serious. If we are feeling stiff or sore in an area, perhaps we may need a more active form of recovery such as using a foam roller, stretching, getting a massage or even physio.
It is also very important to be gentle with our bodies when we are injured. Sometimes we will be injured and take time off jiu jitsu but then come back to early or come back without having properly rehabilitated the injury. This can result in a reinjury even more serious than the initial one, and even more time lost for training. We have to be patient with our injuries and take the time and do the work necessary to fully recover. In the long term being gentle with our bodies means we will become stronger faster and our jiu jitsu will improve along a faster curve.
5. Be gentle with your journey
Jiu jitsu is only one of the many journeys that we make if we chose to include it in our lives. We will have to journey in our work, we will have to journey in our health, as we develop and then age, we will journey in our relationships, whether it is with family, friends, or people we meet on the way, and perhaps there are other journeys we will make, such as if we develop hobbies or skills in other areas such as arts, or even in other vocations. The jiu jitsu journey can make help us in other journeys we will make by giving us confidence, strength, but also gentleness.
It is important to take a restrospective approach even when starting out jiu jitsu. Even as a white belt we can think about how would we want to reflect back on our jiu jitsu careers if we imagined ourselves at the end of our jiu jitsu journey. At the end of the day all the times we were able to smash someone’s guard or maybe sink in a tight triangle or cross collar choke will not mean as much as the people we met along the way, the laughs and learning we shared, and the fun we had, and how much we learned and helped others.
If we think at the beginning of our jiu jitsu journey, that when we are looking backwards at the end of it we want to be able to reflect on ourselves as having been gentle warriors, then we have adopted the right jiu jtisu mindset from the beginning, and a mindset that is conducive to maximum growth over the long term.
When we see jiu jitsu in action it is hard to detect gentleness. If we have ever seen someone caught in a rear naked choke “or lion killer” it does not seem gentle at all. In a tournament scenario or a combat scenario the movements, are fast, explosive, precise, and employ great balance, technique, control, and strength. It is hard to detect anything gentle about “the gentle art” in these contexts. If we could look into the mind of a high level jiu jitsu master, however, we might be surprised at the level of calm, and gentleness we would find there.
To get to a high level of jiu jitsu, we must be gentle with our movements, our thoughts, opponents, bodies, and with our journey. A gentle mindset is more conducive to learning, helps us to be more efficient in combat, and helps us to avoid and better recover from injuries. A gentle approach is also what is going to be a tough journey fun and worth it. Remember the old adage, “if you want peace, you must prepare for war”, and also “it is better to be a warrior in a garden, than a gardener in a war”. War and peace are merely opposite sides of the same coin. In this way jiu jitsu combines both gentlness and ferocity. With diligent practice over time, and the right mindset, our jiu jitsu will make us gentle like lion killers.
-Telmo dos Santos